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Counseling and Consultation Services

Referral Guidelines

Faculty and Staff

While most students cope successfully with demands of college life, for some, the pressures can become overwhelming and unmanageable. There is powerful rationale for faculty/staff to intervene when they encounter distressed students: the inability to cope effectively with emotional stress poses a serious threat to students' learning ability. As a faculty/staff member, your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student reestablish the emotional equilibrium necessary for a fulfilling university experience.

Check out this brief video, created by Butler students, that illustrates how friends might intervene and refer a friend in need:


There will likely come a time when you notice a friend struggling to cope and do not know how to help. Providing another student with the available campus resources may be the best way to assist him or her.

These guidelines may help you assess what can sometimes be a difficult situation and give you some specific ideas about what you can do when confronted with students who are distressed.

The following behaviors may indicate that something is wrong and a referral may be needed:

  • Serious grade problems or a change from consistently good grades to unaccountably poor performance
  • Excessive absences, especially if the student has previously demonstrated good, consistent class attendance
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response which is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • Other characteristics that suggest the student having trouble managing stress include:
    • A depressed, lethargic mood
    • Being excessively active and talkative (very rapid speech), not needing sleep
    • Swollen, red eyes
    • Marked change in personal dress and hygiene
    • Falling asleep inappropriately

The following behaviors are often present in students in extreme crisis needing immediate care:

  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostile, aggressive, violent)
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech; unconnected or disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things which "aren't there," beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability)
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts (referring to suicide as a current option)
  • Homicidal threats

Help a Friend in Need (PDF)

What Can You Do?

If you choose to approach a student you're concerned about, here are some suggestions that might make the situation more comfortable for you and helpful for the student:

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. If you are pressed for time, set up another time to talk with the student.
  • Describe the behavior that concerns you.
  • Listen to the student. Communicate understanding by restating what you heard them say. Try to include both content and feelings.
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing.
  • Work with the student to specify options they can consider (i.e., talk with family, friends, clergy, counselor, coach, etc.)
  • Regard the information the student gives you as confidential unless it threatens harm to themselves or others.

When Should You Make a Referral?

There are circumstances that may require the use of other resources. Examples include:

  • The problem is one you do not feel qualified to handle.
  • You believe that personality differences will interfere with your ability to help.
  • You know the student personally (as a friend, neighbor, friend of a friend) and think you could not be objective enough to help.
  • The student acknowledges the problem but is reluctant to discuss it with you.
  • You are feeling overwhelmed, pressed for time, or otherwise at a high level of stress yourself.

Provide whatever support you can based on these guidelines, and make a referral when it seems that the problem is beyond this level of intervention.  Explain your limits to the student if making a referral so that they understand your reason for suggesting our service.  Referring to us can also help you prevent dual relationships that can be confusing for both you and the student.